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Solar array with cloud predicting technology launched in WA

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A solar array with the ability to factor in the effect cloud cover will have on its generation output has been unveiled at Karratha Airport in Western Australia, marking an Australian first.

The 1MW project, developed by Webster Power Company with $2.3 million in support form the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, uses Cloud Predictive Technology to anticipate its output – an innovation that promises to make solar generation cheaper by smoothing supply and reducing the reliance on back-up battery storage.

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The project, which has been described as the culmination of significant effort by a number of industry participants including Horizon Power, CPS National, MPower, and ARENA – will be connected to the North West Interconnected System (NWIS), Horizon Power’s network servicing Western Australia’s Pilbara mining region.

SunEdison Australia, one of the world’s largest renewable energy companies, has also been a crucial supporter of the project and will be its long term owner and operator.

“It will be the first time cloud predictive technology has been used on a solar PV installation of this size connected to a network,” ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said, adding that it could lead to a rise in the number of renewable energy projects in the north-west of Australia and beyond.

“Because clouds can lead to a sudden drop in solar output, commercial solar power generation on a smaller network usually has costly storage requirements to ‘smooth out’ supply into the grid. Employing CPT reduces the need for this buffer, meaning solar generation can be installed and operated more cheaply.”

Frischknecht said the Karratha Airport project received funding because of its alignment with ARENA’s twin objectives of working to reduce the cost and increase the use of renewable energy in Australia.

In September 2014, ARENA provided $452,000 towards the development and demonstration of a cloud tracking solution by Fulcrum3D, that was to be tested at the at the 1MW Uterne solar PV plant in Alice Springs.

Indeed, as more and more solar capacity is added to grids around the world, the development of this kind of technology is at a premium.

In the US, several forecasting companies already sell services to the renewable energy industry, and many others, including IBM, are working on their own versions of this kind of technology.

According to this recent LA Times article, a California company called AutoGrid Systems sells software to forecast energy demand, minutes or seconds in advance, by analysing consumption patterns, as well as the weather.

“It creates a ‘living model’ of the power grid based on physics and human behavior. The team runs various scenarios through its algorithms, asking questions such as, What if the temperature spikes? What if power rates go up?

“If the penetration of solar or wind gets very high, then you need something to compensate for the fact that power output is changing very quickly,” said product manager Basile Bouquet. “The key concept for utilities in the future is to be able to manage flexibility.”

Other companies in the field include General Electric and Finland-based Vaisala, which are both working in machine intelligence. IBM’s research is part of the US Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative.

In Australia, Frischknecht said that despite excellent solar resources in the Pilbara region, development of renewable projects had been affected by high storage requirements stipulated by the network operator.

“Battery storage can help smooth out energy output and is becoming cheaper as technology advances. However, it is currently a major expense for new projects in the region,” he said.

“This project is aiming to satisfy network requirements with fewer batteries by enhancing storage effectiveness with cloud prediction, potentially opening the door for more renewable energy projects in the region.”

The Karratha Airport initiative is one of 232 projects supported to date by ARENA, of which 110 involve solar photovoltaic technology.  

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  • Chris Fraser

    If the photovoltaics are regionally isolated, ie all sitting in one place, the smoothing out of energy flow could be helped by use of a supercapacitor. Since supercapacitors respond so quickly, you wouldn’t even see the lights start to brown out. The capacitor’s state of needed charge could be helped by predictive technology.If lots of photovoltaics are spread out and connected to a grid of the future, the use of this technology appears to be of lesser importance.

    • phred01

      With distributed solar like on roof tops over a large area one get smoothing automatically.